As attorneys in the Twin Cities, we urge the Minneapolis Charter Commission to approve the ordinance that the Minneapolis City Council has submitted so voters can decide the future of policing.
We believe the proposed charter amendment is a proper and legitimate action for voters for several reasons.
The City Council proposal followed an appropriate process to be placed on the ballot.
Five council members, representing diverse residents, drafted the proposed amendment.
The council passed it and submitted it to the Charter Commission in accordance with state law.
Delaying the commission’s action by extending the review period for an additional 90 days is unnecessary and undemocratic. If the commission delays its vote, the amendment won’t make the deadline for the November ballot. To be clear, such inaction would effectively be a choice to use a procedural device to veto the right of the democratically-elected City Council, and Minneapolis voters, to debate and decide this critical issue.
It’s important to note the Charter Commission has used this option to hinder police reforms from reaching the general election ballot in the past.
We find nothing to merit further delay of consideration by the commission. We urge each commissioner to consider that their role is to supervise the process of amending the Minneapolis City Charter, not to ensure that their particular views will decide the outcome. Whether any commissioner would draft the amendment differently, the proposed ballot measure presents a reasonable and legitimate public safety framework for Minneapolis, deserving voter consideration.
The proposed amendment is also a reasonable response to public outcry for a holistic approach to public safety. It would replace the traditional Police Department structure with a Department of Community Safety & Violence Prevention, which would serve public safety through a public health-oriented approach. The measure doesn’t propose leaving Minneapolis without trained peace officers to protect against violent crimes, property crimes or other crimes. The amendment would preserve the option of a Division of Law Enforcement composed of peace officers within that larger department.
The City Council would be responsible for establishing, maintaining, adequately funding and consistently engaging the public about the department’s scope and operations.
Treating public safety and violence prevention as a public health issue, rather than as a law enforcement matter, is neither radical nor unprecedented. Such shifts are already occurring: In 2018, Minneapolis moved more than $1 million from the Police Department into a program aimed at reducing domestic violence, legal services for immigrants and refugees, and an Office of Violence Prevention. Several Minneapolis institutions, including the public school district, the University of Minnesota and the Park and Recreation Board, have moved to curtail or end their contracts with MPD.
Restructuring police departments has been successful in other cities. The CAHOOTS program in Eugene, Ore., for example, has for decades dispatched crisis workers to respond to mental health, substance abuse and other 911 calls, and has been effective in getting people the help they need without escalation, an arrest or violent confrontation.
Other U.S. cities also have been moving toward shifting responsibility for public safety away from police departments. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged to shift money from the New York Police Department to youth and social-services programs. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has vowed to pull $150 million from policing to boost funding for health care, jobs and “peace centers” — which critics noted was a small drop in the department’s $1.8 billion budget. Portland, Ore., Madison, Wis., and other jurisdictions have agreed to pull police from public schools.
The proposed amendment is reasonable in scope. It outlines critical structures to support the development of the Community Safety & Violence Prevention Department. For example, it appoints an authority — the City Council — to establish, maintain and fund the new department. It creates a process to select leadership for the new department through the mayor’s nomination and the council’s appointment. It provides qualifications for individuals eligible to lead the new department. It outlines the role for the law enforcement division, including the process for appointing leadership of that division.
Of course the charter amendment does not answer every question about how the new department would operate. That is not the function of a charter amendment. It is not, nor should it be, an implementation plan, nor is one required by law in order for a charter amendment to be proper. In fact, the proposed amendment is no less detailed than the current Section 7.3 that addresses the Police Department.
The amendment is a reasonable and feasible framework for reimagining public safety in Minneapolis. Regardless of the views of any individual commissioner on whether it should be adopted, the proposed charter amendment is — both procedurally and in substance — a legitimate proposal to put before Minneapolis voters in November.
We urge the commission to take action with the full measure of reflection and earnestness that the city, its people and all its stakeholders deserve. The time for this debate — to hear the voices of Minneapolis voters — is now.
Shui Li, Ross C. D’Emanuele and Jeffrey P. Cobia are attorneys in the Twin Cities.